Managing digital assets

OK, so you finally have your logos, images, message documents and case studies all organized in your new digital asset management (DAM) system, and all is right with the world. Then it happens.

You suddenly start getting e-mails from your sales team that old logos are being used on spec sheets. Someone added a new product box of unreleased software into your homepage image. One of your distributors is on the phone wanting to know why his competitor has your new marketing material and he doesn't.

Yikes. Instead of solving a problem, have you just created a digital asset monster?

Every DAM service promises to improve access to assets. Less discussed but more important are the controls available to govern access to those assets. Improper governance controls can cause digital assets to be lost, deleted, stolen, modified or used in ways that work against a company's business objectives or brand.

For example, if an outdated logo is used in your channel, confused consumers could ignore new products, undermining months of product development and launch efforts. Using dated images or old product references in new campaigns could set back your branding efforts severely. Information made public prematurely will give competitors an unfair jump on your innovative product differentiators, harming financial performance.

It might make you wonder why you went to a DAM system in the first place. Stop wondering. DAM systems are one of the best ways for large creative operations to compete in the digital age. The key to doing more good than harm is to find a DAM solution that provides the levels of granular control your organization needs.

To avoid these problems, many DAM systems offer workflow tools that allow different classes of users to have different levels of access to assets. This includes the rights to view, comment, edit, download and forward materials. Also required are features that allow rights to be triggered by other rights. For example, Group B should be restricted from downloading an asset until User A has approved it. These capabilities are essential for a DAM system to become a tool for managing workflow rather than a simply digital repository.

I grant thee access

Governance tools ensure that only current and approved assets are used by those with the responsibility and authority to access them. Generally, companies deploy DAM with three buckets of users: administrators, internal users and external users.

  • Administrators: Typically in marketing, these folks are the “Grand Poobahs” of rights. They can view all assets, users and features of the system. They can upload and download files, add metadata, and edit and change version numbers. Administrators can delete, view and order all assets, as well as create users and roles, and run reports.
  • Internal users: Typically in sales, Web and product teams (among others), this group has selective access to view or order particular groups of assets or all approved assets. Also, they have controlled access to various system features. Some may have access to upload assets and add metadata. Generally, internal users would not have the ability to delete or overwrite assets or administer the system (including creating users or defining roles).
  • External users: This group — which may include outside agencies, media, partners and sales channel partners among others — has selective access to view or order particular groups of approved assets. Rarely would they have permission to upload assets or add metadata unless they were with an agency or photographer that is responsible for creating digital assets.

Relationships are complicated

It seems simple on the surface, but when it comes to governing your DAM users, there are many types of files that can be owned by different people. To manage this requires establishing a set of relationships that can be complicated if your DAM solution is not up to the task.

To illustrate, externally you could have multiple groups, multiple brands, multiple agencies, photographers, videographers, consulting firms, PR firms and other technology providers all needing to touch your digital assets. Even some of your suppliers could need to interact with your digital assets, and those suppliers may or may not need to see what the other is doing or what they have as far as inventory. Internally, you have a corporate communications team, marketing teams and brand teams. All of these groups probably need access to digital assets, though they may not need access to the same ones.

Your assets can have multiple classifications too. Approved or released assets are current and available for use. Unreleased assets could include those on hold for a future product launch, campaign, promotion or event. Expired or archived assets are often kept in the system for reference in repurposing opportunities or tracking, but are unavailable to general users.

Your DAM system should be easy

Any reliable DAM provider should have technologies in place that will embrace and enforce the governance you want to apply, especially when it comes to permissioning assets for groups of users to see or manipulate. In general, most DAMs offer some governance over rights management, but fall short in areas of tracking, alerts and rights management features that take advantage of an enterprise environment.

The beauty of many enterprise-class and work-group DAM solutions (versus out-of-the-box DAM software) is that they allow organizations to designate several different groups or tiers of users. For example, an organization could have a group of “super-admins” that can see everything but also grant administrative-level consent to users responsible for Brand A vs. Brand B. Below that level of access are user groups with permission to search and retrieve certain approved and current assets.

Keeping all of this straight is critical but difficult. Internal and external roles and a corresponding permissions structure can become extremely complicated if not handled correctly. It all works better when the roles, permissions and rights management process are configured and controlled by the DAM client. But this knowledge just doesn't drop from the sky.

If possible, it's a good idea to see how other global brands have deployed their digital asset management systems and strategies through phases. Ask about the roles they've set up initially and how they determined appropriate groups of digital assets to implement. The first thing you should do is talk with your DAM provider, because there's a possibility that what you want to accomplish may be different from what has previously been done. A solid DAM partner will help you find the best way to get there, provide exactly what you need for set up and ensure you are enforcing the permissions structure that you'd like to implement.

It's empowering when it is done correctly. And it is rewarding when you can freely allow outside agencies to contribute to the DAM system by adding new digital assets at the same time they may be inserting metadata or transferring a digital asset to an internal stakeholder to move it forward for approval. The good news is you'll eventually be able to maintain whatever governance configuration you want, and a service-minded DAM provider will ideally be there with you every step of the way.

Matthew Gonnering is CEO of Widen Enterprises, a provider of digital asset management software and services.